David Smith of Journal and Courier reports that food-borne illness comes from consuming food or beverages that have been contaminated with a pathogen, such as a virus, a bacterium or a parasite.
Careful food preparation at the correct temperatures can kill microorganisms or prevent those that survive from multiplying and making the consumer ill.
Richard Linton, a Purdue University professor of food safety who has written two textbooks on the subject, said two crucial temperatures are 41 degrees and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Within that range, dangerous bacteria can grow,” he said.
Health inspectors, when they visit a restaurant, grocery store or other food establishment, check to make sure foods are either hotter than 135 degrees or cooler than 41 degrees.
When cooked food is cooled, the less time it takes to pass through that temperature range, the better. This can be done by dividing it into portions, placing the food in shallow pans and by using ice to speed the process.
The Tippecanoe County Health Department recommends that potentially hazardous cooked foods be cooled from 135 degrees to 70 degrees within two hours and from 70 degrees to 41 degrees within the next four hours.
“If that can be done, then it will prevent the growth of bacteria that will survive the cooking,” Linton said.
While restaurants in Tippecanoe County amass thousands of critical health code violations a year, relatively few cases of food-borne illnesses are confirmed.
Linton said that’s due to several reasons. The symptoms of food-borne illness — diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and cramps — can be mistaken for some other ailment.
And people who suspect they have a food-related illness rarely go to the doctor for the necessary blood or stool tests. Fewer still are cases where a pathogen is positively identified and traced back to the food source.
For every confirmed case, the Centers for Disease Control estimates as many as 100,000 cases go unconfirmed.
The CDC reports that the most commonly recognized food-borne infections are those caused by the bacteria Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli, and by a group of viruses known as Norwalk viruses.
The CDC estimates that each year in the United States, an estimated 76 million people suffer from food-borne illnesses, resulting in an estimated 5,000 deaths.
When a restaurant is cited for a “critical” violation of a food safety standard, it means the violation has the potential to have a direct impact on public health, Linton said.
The most common critical vio lations relate to time and temperature abuse, such as improper cooking, improper cooling and improper storage.
Jaime Romo, general manager of La Bamba Mexican Restaurants in Indiana and Kentucky, said proper hand washing and proper use of gloves are also very important.
“You go to places, and they work at the cash register, then they go to the glove box. You should wash your hands before you put on your gloves,” he said.
All food establishments are required to have someone on staff who has passed an exam certifying that he or she is knowledgeable about food safety regulations.
“When I read the newspapers and I see critical violations, it makes me think twice of going there to eat,” Linton said.